Perfect Peace

You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3, GNT)

Perfect peace. A quiet mind. A content heart. No worry or anxiety. No fear or dread. A firm purpose. A solid trust in God that allows you to rest. This is far more life.

While perfect peace sometimes feels elusive, once we enter a relationship with Jesus it is always available to us. It is a gift from God, a product of the Holy Spirit coming to live inside of us. Like all gifts, we must choose whether to set it aside or use it.

But perfect peace — as appealing as it sounds — can feel unfamiliar and strange to us, especially in difficult circumstances. We may feel more comfortable with familiar emotions: stress, anxiety, fear, defensiveness, withdrawal. Perfect peace requires us to know when to “let go and let God”.  It is rooted in trusting God.  It requires us to believe He is aware and involved, He knows what is best, and He is working for our good.

Let’s be honest: there are times we trust ourselves more than God. We trust our actions will make a bigger difference than praying and waiting for Him to act.  We trust our own wisdom rather than seeking out His wisdom.  We trust it is better to protect ourselves from hurt than expose our pain and pursue healing.  God doesn’t judge His daughters for this; He knows our wounds and blind spots better than anyone else — and still loves us. But He longs for us to have what is best: perfect peace and far more life.

I appreciate this Scripture passage’s vivid depiction of our trust struggle:

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  (Matthew 14:25-31, NIV)

Look at Peter’s response again: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  It seems that Peter did not trust it was really Jesus out there, he wanted confirmation. But he knew if it was Jesus calling, he would be safe. Peter believed that Jesus could do the impossible. That Jesus cared about his well-being. That Jesus would not allow him to drown. Whatever fears or doubts Peter had, he trusted Jesus had power over the wind and water.

That trust gave Peter courage to get out of the boat; he walked on water!!  Imagine yourself in his place: would you even consider getting out of the boat? Would you feel excited or nervous — or maybe both — as you locked eyes with Jesus and walked toward Him…across a lake?  I’d like to think that when Peter looked at Jesus, he experienced perfect peace and all those negative thoughts and emotions faded away.

But Peter is human. Along the way he took his eyes off Jesus. He remembered his circumstances; he was no longer in the relative safety of the boat. He was exposed, standing on water that was being blown into waves by the wind. He no longer felt safe. His peace evaporated. He was overcome by doubt and fear. He may have asked himself, “What am I doing? What was I thinking?” He started to sink. Perhaps he was flailing and trying to keep himself upright. Fortunately, he still believed that Jesus could rescue him and called out for help.  And of course Jesus caught him.

Like Peter, when we are in difficult situations we can look at either our circumstances or our God. When we focus on our circumstances, we see how big the problem is, feel overwhelmed, and fixate on the obstacles. We believe we are in danger of drowning, especially if the problem intensifies and the pressure mounts.  But we have another option! We can focus on God, truths about his character, truths about his love for us, and truths about his limitless power and knowledge.  Focusing on our circumstances robs us of peace and leaves us battling negative emotions. Focusing on God offers us perfect peace, even when we’re standing on the lake in the middle of a storm. Despite the wind, waves, and rain that surrounds us, we can feel peaceful, calm, and secure.

Jesus knows how tempted we are to look away from Him.  He told His disciples some of the challenges they would face then shared this perspective:

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33, NASB)

Suffering is unavoidable. Circumstances that tempt us to strive in our own power are unavoidable. His words remind us to courageously put our trust in Him, keep our eyes firmly on our God-given purpose, and be blessed by His gift of perfect peace. That is far more life.

Sisters,
In what situation are you tempted to look at your circumstances rather than your Savior?
Are you willing to obey Jesus’ instruction: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”? 
If not, ask God to help you identify what is preventing you from trusting Him.
Then ask for courage to take the next step in trusting Him.
Remember to thank God for conquering the world, offering you perfect peace, and meeting you where you are on your trust journey.
-Shari

Rest in Far More Life

By this point you may think you need to DO MORE to get far more life. Love God more. Love people more. Give God more glory. But God asks the opposite of us:

Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, NASB)

Cease striving? Or “be still” (as other translations instruct)? Doesn’t God understand that if we let up everything will fall apart? Chaos will overtake our lives?  How can that lead to far more life?

There are definitely areas of life where we need to continue striving. We need to keep battling temptation, sin, and unhealthy patterns in our lives, striving to become more like Christ. We need to keep expressing God’s grace and truth, striving to share His life-changing message with those around us. We need to keep working on our relationships, striving to offer respect and love through each interaction.

But we can’t meet all the needs or fight all the battles. Some of us have tried and found it is impossible and exhausting.  So how do we decide where to work and where to cease striving? But Psalm 131 offers guidance:

O Lord, my heart is not conceited. My eyes do not look down on others. I am not involved in things too big or too difficult for me. Instead, I have kept my soul calm and quiet. My soul is content as a weaned child is content in its mother’s arms. Israel, put your hope in the Lord now and forever.” (GW)

We should find the places our soul is not calm, quiet, and content; these are the things that are too big or too difficult for us. Instead of positively impacting these situations, we are being negatively impacted by them. They are keeping us from far more life.

But what happens in the areas where we cease striving?  Some of them are big needs. And important to us. The text instructs “put your hope in the Lord”. God is big enough to handle it — ALL of it.  And, surprisingly, He can even handle it without us!

One Sunday I felt especially “full” and decided I would not volunteer for anything that popped up during the coming week. Instead, when I became aware of a need I would pray for God to meet the need. Three situations came up that week where I would have normally offered help, but each time I simply prayed. I was excited and humbled to learn that the person who stepped up to meet each need did it better than I could have. So not only did God meet the needs without me, He met them BETTER without me! Why was I surprised? He has a whole kingdom of resources at His disposal. A kingdom of people with a variety of skills, knowledge, resources, experience, and availability. A kingdom of power and wealth beyond my understanding. This experience reinforced my hope in the Lord. I don’t need to strive to make everything work. He can meet my needs  — and others’ needs — today and every day.  Placing our hope in Him is far more life.

Maybe you’ve been striving for so long that you don’t even remember what a calm, quiet, content soul is like. It experiences and radiates God’s character. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Forgiveness. When we feel and emit these, we are not striving to do God’s work. We are calmly resting in God, quietly placing our hope in Him, and contendedly investing our energy; we are living far more life.

But when we are anxious, exhausted, stressed, fearful, angry, worried, hopeless, overwhelmed, or stuck, our souls are not calm, quiet, and content. These feelings are indicators that we need to cease striving in one or more areas. We need to identify what is too big or difficult and turn it over to God.  At those moments we are like Martha in Luke 10, worried and upset by many things. But recognizing that we are striving enables us to make a choice: will we continue or will we choose to follow the example of her sister, Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to Him?  Jesus said Mary chose what was better. She chose far more life.

Some of the areas where we are tempted to take on too much are physical. We can overpack our schedules and push our bodies beyond their limits. But we more tempted to carry mental and emotional burdens that are too big or difficult. We worry about people and situations over which we have no control. We replay past events and conversations in our minds, asking what we should have done or said differently. We imagine all the bad things that could happen in the future. Let them go! Cease striving! Remember that God is holding you like a mother holds her child. Lovingly. Tenderly. Securely. Rest — quietly, calmly, contentedly — in His arms. Place your hope and trust in His goodness and strength. Embrace far more life.

My pastor often says, “Do your best and let God take care of the rest.” That helps me understand how to cease striving in a practical way.  There are things we can and need to do. But we must also recognize our limits and God’s limitlessness. Knowing God’s power and trusting His character frees us to cease striving. Rest in far more life!

Sisters,
Prayerfully examine your heart, asking “What am I involved in that is too big or difficult for me?”
Are you willing to turn those things over to God?
If not, why? What do you need in order to trust Him in those places?
Are you willing to ask Him to help you grow in trust?
Thank and praise Him for being big enough to handle all of it.
Enjoy less striving and far more life!
-Shari

This Life That I Now Live

If we give up our old life to pursue far more life, what will this new life look like?  The road will be different for each of us, but we will have this in common: “This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me” (Galatians 2:20b, GNT).

 The Amplified Bible explains that “faith” means “adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting” the Son of God. Hebrews 11:1 defines it this way: “Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see” (CEV).

So if we put these definitions together, we arrive at this description of faith:
Living in a way that proves I completely trust Jesus Christ — the one who loved me enough to die for me — adhering to Him no matter what comes my way and relying on Him to keep His promises for now and the future. That is far more life!

Completely trusting Jesus means believing wholeheartedly that He deserves our devotion and allegience. It frees us to share everything with Him, knowing that He will never condemn us. We feel safe enough to show Him the ugliness in our heart and listen to Him rather than our fear or selfishness. Complete trust enables us to accept His promises because we believe He is faithful and always speaks truth. It gives us confidence to be vulnerable and take risks, knowing that we have a wise counselor and advisor backing us. Proverbs 14:10 describes completely trusting Jesus: The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (NIV).

Adhering to Jesus means that we are permanently attached to Him. For the long haul. Regardless of our circumstances. We recognize there will be hills and valleys on our journey together but believe that traveling with Him is where we will always find far more life. Our desire is to become so entwined with Him that it’s hard to tell where He stops and we begin. He has promised to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). And we have made the same commitment to Him. An adhering mindset echos that of Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69, NIV).

Relying on Jesus is believing that His example and instruction are perfect and will never steer us wrong. It prompts us to study His interactions with people so we can act the same way. We don’t have to forge our own path or learn the hard way because we know He has modeled it for us. Reliance allows us to live out this instruction: Trust the Lord completely, and don’t depend on your own knowledge. With every step you take, think about what he wants, and he will help you go the right way(Proverbs 3:5-6, ERV).

Completely trusting Jesus. Adhering to Jesus. Relying on Jesus. This is the life that we now live. This is far more life.

But there are challenges to living this out. In good times we can forget to rely on Him. We are lulled into believing we are doing fine in our own strength. In bad times we can be tempted to stop trusting Him completely. It may feel like He is far away and not protecting us. And in the everydayness of life we can lose sight of our need to adhere to Him. There are so many shiny distractions that catch our eye and pull us in a different direction. How do we stay the course of faithful living and far more life?

In relationship. Our faith cannot be an obligation if we want far more life. Rather it must be the outgrowth of an intentional relationship with God. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me (John 15:5 GW). As soon as we agree to a relationship with God, his Spirit comes to live inside of us. Nothing will ever change that (Romans 8:38-39). But we choose day by day, moment by moment, whether to nurture that relationship or ignore it. Will we talk to Him about the big and little moments of our day? Our thoughts? Hopes? Dreams? Will we share our excitement and fears, worries and wonder, burdens and blessings with Him? Will we vent our anger to Him? Will we sit quietly with Him, drinking in the wonders of His creation? Will we study His written Word, the Bible, to learn who He is and what He does? Will we seek out His opinion and wisdom? Will we follow His advice? Will we watch expectantly for His answers to our prayers? In essence, will we let Him become our best friend and travel guide? Or will we simply tolerate Him as a passenger on the route we choose?

Jesus promised that those who intentionally connect with Him and live by faith in Him will have far more life. He doesn’t give us the roadmap, so we never know exactly where He will take us. Our adventure with Him will take us up the highest mountains, down narrow winding paths, and through the lowest valleys. But no matter where we are on the road, when we adhere to our trustworthy and reliable guide, we can rest assured it will be a good life, even far more life than we can ask or imagine!

Sisters,
Is Jesus your travel guide or a tolerated passenger?
Is your life and faith characterized by complete trust in Jesus?
Do you adhere to Him?
Rely on Him?
Choose one way you can intentionally improve your relationship with God this week.
Watch expectantly to see far more life emerge!
-Shari

 

Finding Your Purpose

We all want to find purpose in life. God created us in His image; He is purposeful and instilled that desire in us. But finding our purpose can be hard. Some of us have explored many paths that ended in disappointment; we may have become discouraged and quit searching after several failed attempts. Others are so bogged down surviving life’s challenges that we don’t have the energy or desire to look for our purpose. Should we give up and settle for simply existing?

No! Remember the promise from John 10:10? “I came to bring them life, and far more life than before” (PHILLIPS).  Purpose — far more life — is waiting for you! But maybe not where you expect.

King Solomon sought the purpose of life, too. He journeyed multiple paths but deemed them all meaningless: wisdom; pleasure; work; advancement; riches; and more.  Along the way he saw God’s hand at work in the world. His ultimate finding: “After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God, and obey his commands, because this is all that we were created for” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, GNT).

This is echoed in New Testament Scriptures (GNT unless noted):

  • “You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God.” (Colossians 3:1)
  • Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NCV)
  • “Whatever you do..do it all for God’s glory.” (I Corinthians 10:31)
  • “Yet there is for us only one God, the Father, who is the Creator of all things and for whom we live; and there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created and through whom we live.” (I Corinthians 8:6)
  • “This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.” (Galatians 2:20b)
  • “From now on, then, you must live the rest of your earthly lives controlled by God’s will and not by human desires.” (I Peter 4:2)

Some people think living for God means obeying lots of rules or commands. But what if those commands reveal our purpose and offer far more life?

The instruction manual for my kitchen range shares several rules, including: “Do not store explosives on or near the oven”; “Never modify or alter the construction of the oven”; and “Never leave surface burners unattended.” I can view these rules in one of two ways: 1) maximizing the purpose of the range or 2) limiting my freedoms. One view leads to good results and greater satisfaction. The other leads to frustration and serious injury or death.

The same is true for our lives.  God has given us an instruction manual that defines our purpose and tells us how to get the most out of this life and eternity. Would your life be more satisfying if you followed His instructions in Colossians 3?  (I am including The Message translation here because its directness made me think. Please consult your favorite translation if you prefer a different tone.)

“…Be content with obscurity, like Christ. And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy…make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk. Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life…
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”

Why does God expect us to do everything for His glory?  The short answer is in Revelation 4:11 (GNT), Our Lord and God! You are worthy to receive glory, honor, and power. For you created all things, and by your will they were given existence and life.”  Without God we would not exist.  As our creator, He gets to proclaim our purpose and instruct us on fulfilling it.

Following Your Creator’s instruction manual and the purpose for which He designed you is far more life. Reshaping your heart, mind, and actions to match His purpose for you will bring far more satisfaction than anything you can pursue on your own. We will build on this foundation in future posts as we examine how God created each of us with an individual passion — a personalized talent, skill, or desire — that energizes us and glorifies Him. But if you haven’t found far more life, start by embracing your primary purpose; “Whatever you do…do it all for God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31).

Sisters,
Do you believe following God’s instructions bring you far more life?
Are you allowing His Word to shape your heart, mind, and actions?
Do you “do it all for God’s glory”?
If not, tell Him about it:
Tell Him what is holding you back;
Tell Him what you fear;
Tell Him what you think you will lose.
Give it a try: choose one instruction from His Word (the Bible) and commit to follow it this week.
Reap the benefits of far more life!
-Shari